RESILIENCE has become a buzz word in the development circle mainly because of the threat of climate change. Climate change has many unintended (usually adverse) consequences such as frequent visit of destructive typhoons, rising incidence of forest fire due to intense heat wave, rising seawater level resulting in the inundation of low-lying areas or islands, outbreaks of plant and animal pests and diseases, introduction of new virus strains, etc.
To be able to counter the adverse effects of climate change, there are recommended "mitigation" (addressing causes) and "adaptation" (adjustment) measures that nations or communities can collectively implement. In turn, such responses are part of the so-called building of resilient societies or communities.
But building resilience comes with a cost. Planting more trees, better educating and informing communities of the challenges they face with climate change, reviving our depleted coastal resources, countering the effects of harmful plant and animal pests and diseases, among others, entail allocating and spending money to ensure "mitigation" and "adaptation" measures are implemented.
The problem is while we recognize the challenge of climate change and sing hosannahs to the goal of attaining "resilience," we cannot seem to put our money where our mouth is. The situation has been aggravated by the tight financial situation countries all over the world face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The result is an anemic response to the threat of climate change.
Resilience in agriculture
Undeniably, one of the critical sectors in our economy where we need to build resilience is in agriculture for it is severely affected by climate change. Destructive typhoons and its aftermath of widespread flooding damage millions of hectares of our crop lands. It is estimated that our agriculture and fishery sector had lost P243 billion within a 10-year period due to these weather-related disturbances.
Similarly, the outbreak and rapid spread of animal and plant pests and diseases have wiped out our animals and destroyed our crop lands in the millions. A prime example of the former is the outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) in our local hog industry that has led to the death or culling of around 3 million hogs out of a total population of more than 12 million.
As for plant pests and diseases, we saw in the past how the "cocolisap" infested and killed hundreds and thousands of our coconut trees in various parts of the country. Similarly, our banana export is threatened by the Panama disease, which has affected farms of many small farmer growers because of their inability to adopt biosecurity measures to protect their crops. The spread of the fall army worms (FAWs) in our corn farm lands are still in check but favorable agronomic conditions due to climate change might drastically change this situation.
Government cannot do it all
In responding to the threats spawned by climate change and to ensure resiliency of our small producers, the government has to shoulder the burden of the big chunk of the cost. However, given limited resources of the government (the Department of Agriculture's share of the budget as a percent of the total government appropriations is now down to 1.6 percent this year), there is no way it can adequately protect our small farmers through building their resiliency. Two cases glaringly manifest this.
The obvious one is the outbreak and spread of the ASF that has particularly victimized our small backyard raisers. In fact, the first outbreak of the virus took place in the pig pens of small backyard raisers in Rizal province. It spread quickly to small raisers in nearby provinces because of their inability to adopt biosecurity measures, which are not part of their operational costs or beyond their budget. In other words, they have difficulty becoming resilient producers.
In the same vein, small banana growers are the hardest hit by the Panama disease because they do not have the means to install robust biosecurity measures in their operations. The case of the small landholders under contract with the Marsman banana corporation illustrates this point.
Instead of opting to become smallholder banana growers, almost 90 percent of the small farmers want to maintain their leasehold cum contract growing agreement with the Marsman company citing the difficulty of maintaining biosecurity measures against the Panama disease. A couple of years ago, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, upon the instigation the previous Agrarian Reform secretary, ruled that the lands under leasehold agreement should now be distributed to the farmer-beneficiaries to complete the agrarian reform program's thrust of "land to the tiller." Majority of the farmer-beneficiaries do not see any wisdom in this decision because of the threat of Panama disease and the difficulty of accessing credit and the foreign export market.
There are looming pests and diseases that threaten our local plants and animals, which used to be non-endemic to the country. These are the FAWs, which threaten our corn farm lands and, of course, the bird flu virus, which we were able to successfully prevent from spreading. There will certainly be other challenges to be spawned by climate change and partly by the rapid advances in transportation, which accelerated exchanges of people and goods.
Partnership between agribusiness and small farmers is vital
Adequately addressing these threats cannot solely be done by the government. Government does not have the sufficient resources to ensure the resilience of our small tillers in the face of these mounting challenges. The costs of ensuring resilience might prove exorbitant in some cases. As such, it is imperative that the assistance of the private sector be mobilized for this purpose.
Partnership between our small producers and agribusiness firms should be forged as a way of partly defraying the cost of resilience. The experiment can start with the revival of our local hog industry, which are mostly in the hands of small backyard raisers who cannot afford to install biosecurity measures. The banana industry is another area where the partnership can prove beneficial to our small banana growers given the immense resources of established agribusiness firms in the banana industry.
In the 1970s, E.F. Schumacher published a book entitled Small is Beautiful wherein he argued that small farm holdings are more efficient than large farms given intensive labor input in the former due to the use of unpaid family labor. Unfortunately for him, rapid technological advances, combined with the emerging challenges of climate change, have now proven his thesis erroneous given that those with access to technology, which are usually commercial farms, have surpassed small farm productivity per unit of land and per unit of labor.